Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Crafting a Career That Fits the Life You Want to Lead: CPAs Have Many Options for Making Changes That Can Maximize Their Professional and Personal Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of Accountancy

Crafting a Career That Fits the Life You Want to Lead: CPAs Have Many Options for Making Changes That Can Maximize Their Professional and Personal Experiences

Article excerpt


Several years ago, Melody Feniks, CPA, CGMA, saw her small firm basically dissolve before her eyes. With less than two months'notice, one of her two partners decided to return to industry. Less than a year later, her other partner expressed a desire to simplify in anticipation of retirement. The partners demerged, and Feniks was left to rebuild on her own.

Because her partner was still in practice, Feniks had to choose a new firm name to comply with state requirements. Having also recently gone through a divorce, she decided it was time for a complete makeover, one that would include not only reinventing her firm but also changing her name. She did extensive research and chose the new last name Feniks, a Dutch word for "phoenix," the mythical bird that rises renewed from the flames. On the professional side, she seized the opportunity to reconsider her firms mission, vision, and method of working with clients and staff.

At different points, any of us may find ourselves facing a critical juncture that offers the chance to change the course of our careers or personal lives. Given their strong and valuable skill set, CPAs often have the opportunity to move among professional settings--from public practice to industry, or from government to academia. Here's a look at how four innovative CPAs have charted their own paths to success.


At the top of Feniks's agenda was repositioning her five-person, Fairbanks, Alaska-based firm to take a more consultative role with clients. With that in mind, she shifted to a fixed-price billing approach, one focused on a more holistic method of addressing clients' needs. She implemented standardized procedures across the firm. With her former partners, "we operated in silos, with no officewide processes," she said. She also hired a firm administrator to maintain consistency and manage the day-to-day details that once consumed much of the CPA's time. "She doesn't just manage the employees, she manages me," Feniks said.

Running her own practice has also allowed Feniks to alter the way she works with employees. "I can share client details and communications with them even at very early stages of their professional lives because of our consulting role and the training we do," she said.

She has also been able to redefine "full time" so she can hire employees with a wide variety of active fives outside the firm. Her two CPA candidates include a dog musher, Ryne Olson, who has successfully competed in the Iditarod and Yukon Quest races, and a successful musician. She also has an intern on staff who previously worked as an engineer. "They exemplify the individuality of people in Alaska," Feniks said. "There's a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit here, which makes it exciting to be a small-firm owner. Many of our clients don't fit into the traditional business model."


The eclectic mix of clients and employees prompts Feniks to be flexible and creative in the way she runs her firm. Olson, for instance, owns a kennel and sled-dog tour business, and Feniks has been able to adapt to her business and racing schedules. "She's a wonderful asset to the profession, so we wanted to support her," Feniks said. Olson is also the first person in the firm to take advantage of a sabbatical, an option that Feniks has been excited to introduce.


With three children and a demanding job in public practice, Kelly Welter, CPA, launched her own firm in 2005 because she wanted to take charge of her schedule. She also was able to use her previous experience to build a foundation for her new practice.

"I had worked in public practice, and I knew I had an entrepreneurial mind," she said. In her own firm, she used her strong communication skills to build lasting relationships with clients.

Although she was able to power through on her own at first, she recommended that solo owners get clerical assistance as soon as possible to help with time-consuming administrative tasks. …

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